A consensus four-star prospect and the nation’s 9th-ranked offensive guard in 2014 per Scout.com – a member of the SCOUT 300 at No. 132 – Mustipher made the transition to center shortly after his arrival on campus in South Bend.
His apprenticeship occurred while rising senior Matt Hegarty projected to start, though Nick Martin challenged for – and ultimately won the job – after moving from guard in the off-season.
Two seasons later, Mustipher beat out Tristen Hoge for the starting job in Spring 2016. Hoge transferred to Brigham Young earlier this month as a result, while third-string middle man Parker Boudreaux left the program as well, leaving the Irish without a true backup center this fall.
- Class: Senior (Junior eligibility)
- On the depth chart: Starting center
- Post-spring status: Unchanged
MUSTIPHER AT HIS BEST
Probably September 2016, prior to suffering a severe ankle injury – one he played through for the duration of the season.
Mustipher’s first month as a starter was highlighted by a consistent push up front against Texas in Austin, a spot among the Irish Top 10 (per our film reviews) against Nevada one week later, and along with Quenton Nelson, paving the way for quarterback DeShone Kizer’s 14-yard touchdown run against Michigan State.
He concluded the month with a key block to allow Kizer time on a deep post touchdown to K.J. Stepherson to take a 14-0 lead over Duke.
“The conditions were atrocious, so snapping the football was, you know, difficult, to say the least. It was just atrocious conditions to snap a football in. It was difficult for him or anybody that was asked to snap a football given the conditions.” – Brian Kelly, one day after Notre Dame’s loss to North Carolina State
BEST CASE SCENARIO
No errant shotgun snaps – at least none that matter – but more important, a consistent push in the run game plus a comfort and rhythm established with rookie starter Brandon Wimbush behind him.
Mustipher has purportedly emerged as one of the line’s leaders entering his second season in a starting role.
“It starts in the off-season,” said offensive line coach Harry Hiestand of Mustipher’s response since last fall. “Everybody sees what level each guy puts into it and Sam was (all in). He came back in better shape than he left. He showed up and attacked the off-season program and he’s carried that upbeat, attacking mentality. Not waiting for Q, not waiting for Mike.”
WORST CASE SCENARIO
Injury, of course, because the loss of Mustipher would cause a ripple effect along the offensive front with starting right guard Alex Bars the only viable backup center at present.
Save for injury, the worst-case scenario for Mustipher would be a repeat of early October 2016 when his snapping errors contributed heavily to losses at North Carolina State and an unconscionable comeback defeat at the hands of Stanford one week later.
But that’s not the Mustipher Irish fans should expect this fall.
“First of all, you’re talking about a very small number of plays that Sam really fouled up,” said Hiestand. “The timing of them weren’t great. But you’re not talking about a guy not functioning. That was part of it, just pointing out that ‘Hey, this is easily fixed by you’ and he believed that and he stuck with it and Coach Kelly stuck with him.
“Let’s stay in reality: as bad as that was you can put them on a clip of about five plays. We’ve had 550 that are decent. He’s an awesome young man, he has great personal pride. The last thing he needed was anybody to pile on him. We worked with him because he can do it. It wasn’t like he couldn’t do it. Just a bad couple of stretches and he got through it.”
Recruited by Charlie Weis, Braxston Cave was a three-year starting center under Kelly after redshirting as a freshman. Though Cave was a more imposing physical specimen than is Mustipher, the current Irish pivot man appears on a similar career path.
That’d be good news for Notre Dame fans: Cave earned a third-team All America nod for the 2012 Irish in his fifth season in South Bend, third as a starting center.
Mustipher’s career path is not dissimilar to Cave who was likewise less-than-advertised as a rookie starter (his junior season) in 2010 but outstanding two years later for the title-contending Irish.
Mustipher has two seasons to reach a similar summit.